May 16, 2013

Moving the goalposts

Pirelli is making more changes to its tyres for Canada © Getty Images

Is a mid-season tyre change really the best thing for Formula One right now?

This week, following a Spanish Grand Prix that saw an average of four pit stops per driver, Pirelli announced that they would be revising the F1 tyre range from the Canadian Grand Prix onwards, altering the construction to improve durability and prevent the dramatic delaminations we have seen so far this season.

From a safety point of view, anything that stops tyres going bang mid-race is never a bad thing. But while a number of teams have spent the past five races using the media to launch a campaign against the 2013 rubber, other teams have been getting on with the job of trying to race using the tools they’ve been given.

Lotus have done an excellent job, building a car that – in race trim – is very light on its rubber, while not sacrificing much pace over a single qualifying lap. Force India and Ferrari also have cars that run well in race trim on the original rubber.

Red Bull and Mercedes, on the other hand, have been suffering. Well, Red Bull say they’ve been suffering, but it’s hard to feel all that sorry for a team currently top of both drivers’ and constructors’ standings. Mercedes, on the other hand, really have been having difficulties. The car is quick enough for pole on Saturday, but falls apart in the early laps come Sunday afternoon.

It’s not much of a stretch to say that the Barcelona race counts among the worst of Lewis Hamilton’s career, with a front row start leading to a P12 finish thanks to no grip on uncooperative rubber. Team-mate Nico Rosberg finished in the points, but was never in contention for a podium despite starting in P1.

Red Bull and Mercedes have been crying out for new rubber that will allow their drivers to push harder during the races, to demonstrate some of that qualifying pace that has been hidden on Sundays thanks to rapidly degrading tyres. Some fans are beginning to switch off, critical of the impact Pirelli have had on this season’s racing, while the tyre manufacturers have themselves admitted they were uncomfortable with the number of pit stops seen in Barcelona.

But by changing the rubber mid-season, those teams whose cars do appear to be working will lose their advantage. And this is a sport based on finding and manipulating the advantages your rivals didn’t. Or does the show override the fact that some of the teams made this year’s rubber work for them?

Further complicating matters is the timing of the change, which comes as many of the smaller-budgeted teams are considering moving more of their focus to their 2014 car. Different rubber will call for more test time for the 2013 cars, something that could end up crippling the championship hopes of a team like Lotus.


Posted by ts on 17/05/2013

It is complete nonsense to change the tyres in mid season no matter what reasons Pirelli claims . F1 now becomes a joke.

Posted by Ray Winter on 17/05/2013

The above comments are valid. Somehow I can't help but smell a "suggestion" from Ecclestone and Red Bull in this. Changing the tyre specs at this time in the season smacks of nothing less than an attempt at race manipulation to suit certain interests.

Posted by Nick Towsey on 17/05/2013

The smug. lucky & hypocritical Mr Horner/Red Bull team get away with it again. Vettel and Hamilton's luck is well known - Vettel is not worth 3 consecutive titles & there is Hamilton's dubious 08 title. We can only hope that this mid- season goal post shifting is within Lotus and Ferrari's ability to 'manage' to assure that unlike 08, 10 and 12, we don't end up with the wrong world champion.

Posted by Peter C. Ross on 17/05/2013

The first thing you do when designing and tuning is to consider the tyre data supplied by the manufacturer. Lotus (and even though they're not really Lotus in this aspect behaved like the old Lotus) read the rules and the data and did a great job.

As has often been the case in Lotus History, they did too good a job and have had had the rug pulled from under them. It's a shame and its possibly unfair as it's mid season. We'll see if they are really really good now (as I suspect) and respond to the changes better than the others because their fundamental understanding of the tyres generally is better. Let's not forget that the dominance of Ferrari in the Schui era was all based on an understanding of the Bridgestones and indeed tuning the tyre to the chassis designers wishes. It's not a new phenomenon.
Personally I'd rather see (longer term) a return to a competitive tyre supply arrangement which means the tyres are a key part of the engineering as they truly are in automotive design

Posted by nealio on 16/05/2013

The root problem with the tires is two-fold. First, the FIA with the support of the teams will not correct their over-reliance on aero as the sole performance differentiator. They mandate sub-optimized tires to create a false sense of competition by creating unpredictable results.
Second: The FIA with the support of the teams do not allow adequate testing for the development of safe and reliable tires. And then they scapegoat Pirelli to misdirect the blame from themselves.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker